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Second alternates

Last month we looked at several add-ons for the favorite alternate Windows browser, Mozilla. This time around, we look at the alternates to the alternate: Firefox and Thunderbird.

In last month’s column, we looked at several add-ons for everyone’s favorite alternate Windows browser, Mozilla. This time around, we’ll look at the alternates to the alternate: Firefox and Thunderbird.

Firefox, currently on version 0.9, has some of the same look and feel as Mozilla but is designed to be faster, smarter, and sleeker. With Netscape and Internet Explorer, you’re forced to have the entire meal even if all you want is an appetizer. With Firefox, (and, to a lesser extent, Mozilla) you add your entrees as you see fit.

The browser is very bare-bones and doesn’t even feature a mail client. Additional features, however, are available through right-clicking on any of the included tool bars or downloading functionality-adding extensions.

Want to add other search engines to the already-included Google search box? It’s as easy as downloading Mycroft search extensions. Or how would you like to be able to click on any word–any word at all–that you come across on the Web and get an instant definition? Just click on the appropriate link in the extensions repository and you’re done. The program even uses the Web’s hottest new commodity, mouse gestures.

Because Firefox is still a browser in development, there are some bugs; occasionally your profile will disappear, forcing you to build a new one if you haven’t backed up, or certain extensions will conflict with one another, making the browser unusable until you enter the program in safe mode and remove the offending add-on.

If you’re not up for a little adventure, stick with IE, Netscape, or Mozilla; if, on the other hand, you want to shape your own browsing destiny, Firefox is definitely worth the download.

You can download Firefox from Mozilla’s Web site. The program is open-source and completely free.

If you’re tired of Outlook, download Firefox’s companion mail client and give Thunderbird a try. “Reclaim your mailbox,” touts the program’s Web site, and for once there is indeed truth in advertising. Thunderbird is, hands down, the best mail client I’ve found in terms of blocking spam.

In Mozilla, despite using the built-in spam blocker and Norton’s anti-spam program, a good 75 percent of my daily mail was junk. With Thunderbird, I’m down to less than 25 percent.

As with Firebird, everything on Thunderbird is customizable. There are also extensions available for Thunderbird, including one of the aforementioned dictionary programs. If someone uses a word you haven’t seen before, just highlight, right-click, and select “dictionary definition” from the context menu.

You can also add, among other things, a calendar, tag-line manager, and a “get all mail” button to the client to automatically download all your mail from as many accounts as you want at a time.

Like with Firefox, Mozilla’s alternate mail client is only on version 0.7, so if the idea of running into the occasional bug or two, well, bugs you, you should probably stick with whatever you’re already using. But if you’ve been hoping for a flexible, highly-customizable piece of software that works to keep your mailbox spam-free, Thunderbird just might be the mail client for you.

You can also download Thunderbird via Mozilla. Like Mozilla and Firefox, the mail client is open-source and free.

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